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Forums : Your Characters' Story(s) > [Prompt: Changes - Kerta]
Smudge (SuperAdmin) 3/6/2012 3:53 AM EST : [Prompt: Changes - Kerta- Part 1]
GP User: Smudge_ddo

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((As always this is going to be come a monster. Please poke me if you want to read more and I don't keep up with it. I have a TON swirling around my head for this one and want to finish it.))


The tiny halfling drowsed in her mother's arms, lulled to sleep by the swaying rhythm of the wagon, combined with the comfort and safety of the embrace. Little puffs of dust flew up from each strike of the tribex' hooves on the dry plain. More dust trailed in the wake of the ostentatious wagon it pulled, leaving a long, snaking, brown cloud behind them that glittered in the afternoon sunlight.

Kerta stirred slightly, waking just enough to fuss at her green silk dress, with its flouncing skirts and restrictive sleeves. Secretly, she loved how pretty it made her look, highlighting her pale skin and long, wavy red hair. The little bit of vanity, however, was greatly overshadowed by how much she despised it for its restrictiveness and fragility. It wasn't practical like the tunics and breeches she wore when back with the tribe. She couldn't run and play in it. Her mother was always scolding her to sit like a lady when she wore it, whatever that meant. Playing with the boys was out of the question, as was riding with her father on Siliron, his clawfoot mount. And oh how the underthings scratched at her skin! Especially her arm, her left arm had been itching like crazy ever since she put the thing on.

She only had to wear the stupid things when they were in the city with her uncle. He, and thus her mother, insisted. He would have no barbarians in his house. Kerta's father was the only exception to that rule, and only because he spent very little time in his brother-in-law's house when they were in the city. He much preferred camping up in the rocky outcroppings around Gatherhold to being inside it. Kerta always wished she could stay with him rather than in the fussy, fancy house where no one said what they meant, and everything she did was something wrong.

A biting fly flew lazy circles around the young halfling's head. She grunted and batted it away irritably. Forced to find a less violent meal, it zipped off to the rear of the tribex, lighted on the beast's furry haunches, and began to feast. Why Melinar d'Jorasco insisted on using a tribex to pull his wagon, Vadalis bred or not, was beyond any sane person. Sure, they were beautiful, with their great, sweeping horns and thick fur in rich brown and cream, separated, top from bottom, by an iridescent blue stripe. Granted, having a Vadalis bred animal of any sort was a status symbol amongst the nobility. The animals however were just plain flighty and feisty, no matter what the breeding. The littlest thing could set them off, ready for fight or flight at the tiniest provocation.

Apparently a hungry fly was the only provocation this beast needed. It let out a screeching bellow and bolted of down the road as fast as it could go, jostling and wrenching the wagon behind it. Kerta let out a yelp as she was startled awake and clutched herself to her mother, lest she be thrown from the driving seat.

Her mother held tight to the reins, green eyes wide, red hair flying in the wind now that it was freed from the hat that tumbled along behind them in the wake of their movement. “Don't let go, love!” She shouted before giving a sharp whistle.

Kerta held on tight. “I-I don't think that's a problem, Momma!”

There was a little whoop off to their right, followed by a screeching call that could only come from reptilian vocal cords. Siliron loped easily along beside the wagon, blue-black scales shimmering in the sunlight. Kerta's father let out another whoop, dark grey eyes flashing with excitement, and gave the beasts flanks a gentle kick with his heels, urging it forward.

The clawfoot easily caught up with the charging tribex and rounded on it, weaving back and forth across its path, stopping a pace here and there to break the rhythm of the panicked beast. For her part, Kerta's mother hauled on the reins, calling out the command that normally would get the beast to stop. Her voice was calm, despite the wildness to her eyes, and she stubbornly fought on.

All in all, the flight lasted about thirty-seconds, even if it felt like hours to everyone involved. The tribex stopped almost as abruptly as it had taken off, skidding in the dirt as the momentum of the cart behind it nearly snapped the traces. It stood, panting, sides heaving. When it decided the threat had passed, it calmly put its nose to the ground and started grazing.

Kerta's mother slumped back in the driving seat, panting almost as heavily as the beast. She wrapped her arms around her daughter and gave her a tight hug. The young halfling could practically feel the relief radiating from her mother. She opened her mouth to speak, but was cut off by a grumbling bellow from behind them.

What in Khyber is going on up there? Have you taken to racing, woman?” Called out a voice that could be charitably be described as a basso, for a halfling anyway.

Kerta rolled her eyes. She could practically see the old patriarch's scowling face and jiggling jowls. His thick white muttonchop sideburns nearly bristling with irritation.

No, but your stupid beast has.” Kerta's mother shot back.

A great deal of muttering continued from inside the wagon, something about expensive wine and ruined glamerweave robes.

Kerta's father brought his mount up alongside the wagon. Siliron reached his head up to the girl and snuffled her, almost as if to assure himself that she was in one piece. She just giggled and scratched at his brow ridge, causing a little ululating sound of delight.

Well now, that was exciting.” Her father said in a dry tone, grinning up at his two girls. “Great driving, Lyn. You make it ok, fireheart? I bet you weren't scared one bit.”

Kerta grinned at her father's nickname for her, it was one of her favorite things. “Nope. Not a bit.” She glanced up at her mom, who was smirking down at her. “What? I wasn't! I just didn't want to fall off is all.”

Lyn chuckled and ruffled the girl's hair. “Of course not. That was some great work yourself, darling.” She smiled back at her husband. “Though I'd appreciate it if you didn't make me worry about you getting trampled on top of everything else... Riding in front of that thing!”

He snorted. “We had it under control. Blade Desert will see a foot of snow before the fleet Siliron and mighty Jrill are trampled under some overgrown cow!”

Siliron trumpeted his agreement.

Kerta giggled. Her mother simply rolled her eyes, though she was unable to keep the fond smile from her lips.

Okay, Mighty Jrill. Let's get moving again. We've still a good day's ride to go.”

Yes Ma'am.” He quipped back, bowing from his saddle. “Let me take Kerta for a bit, eh? She looks like she could use some time with Siliron and me.”

The girl was already digging through one of the chests behind the driver's seat and pulling on a pair of breeches under her dress, before her mother could object. Lyn sighed. “Okay, okay. At least take off the fancy dress and put on something a little less expensive, before you go getting it all dirty and smelling like lizard.”

With the unabashedness that only an eight-year old, or other similarly young child, could have, Kerta wriggled out of her dress and pulled a tunic on over the breeches. She tugged her hair free from her ponytail, grinning as it fell in thick waves around her face. With renewed energy, she hopped up onto her mother's lap, gave her a little kiss by way of thanks, and scooted down onto the edge of the wagon so her dad could lift her up onto the dinosaur's back.

As Jrill put his hands around her waist to lift her up, a hand clenched around Kerta's left arm, pulling her back.

What is that on your arm?” Lyn cried, eyes wide in surprise.

Jrill looked up at his wife, brows knitting in worry. “What? What's wrong?”

Kerta tried to pull her arm away, but her mother was much stronger than she was and held it fast, pulling her closer. “I don't know.” She replied, looking between her parents with growing alarm. “Is it a spider bite or something? I can't see it, but it's been itching all day. I think there was a spider in that stupid dress.” Her last words were muddled by the fact she was craning her neck around as far as she could, trying to see the back of her arm.

By the Host.” Lyn breathed. “It's a Dragonmark.”


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Smudge (SuperAdmin) 3/7/2012 12:08 AM EST : RE: [Prompt: Changes - Kerta- Part 2]
GP User: Smudge_ddo

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Kerta looked back and forth between her parents. Her mother's face was a combination of shock and wonder, a huge smile spreading slowly across her face. Her father's expression hadn't changed. His brows still knit together with worry.

Her stomach suddenly felt as if she'd swallowed a big stone and washed it down with a few thousand butterflies. All she knew of house Jorasco came from the pompous ass riding in the wagon behind them. As far as she was concerned, they were all like him. They were given such a gift, to be able to heal people, but money was all they cared about. Melinar d'Jorasco was about grand parties and showings of wealth, expensive and rare food and drink, and all the comfort money could buy. He didn't care about what the mark meant or what he could do with it. All that mattered was the money it would bring him. The more money he brought in, the more prestige it brought him with the House. Obviously if he could fill their coffers to overflowing, as well as his own, he must be a skilled healer indeed. His mark must be truly powerful. Kerta despised him.

“Mel-” Lyn began to shout.

“No!” Kerta and Jrill interrupted at almost the same time.

“Lyn, shouldn't we wait a bit? See if it really manifests. Maybe it's just a strange spider bite or something.” Jrill aked, urgently.

“Oh what are you worried about? This is a blessing! Why wait? Our little girl, a healer!” Lyn gushed.

A fat, balding halfling's head poked around the back of the wagon, wispy white hair a disheveled corona around his ruddy face. “Are we going to get moving or what? What is all this commotion about?”

Kerta turned pleading eyes on her mother. “Please, please, please don't tell him.” She whispered.

Lyn just waved her off. “Something wonderful! Come here! Is this what we think it is?” She picked her daughter up and hopped lightly off the wagon, bringing her around so her brother could see. “Kerta. Stop being contrary and move your hand so your uncle can have a look.”

The little halfling sullenly dropped her hand, going limp in her mother's arms. She didn't even look at her uncle or stir as he lifted her arm to study the tiny mark.

One snowy eyebrow arched. “Hmm. I do believe it is. It would seem our little imp has manifested a mark.” He didn't sound entirely impressed.

Kerta's mother was impressed enough for both of them. “How wonderful! Oooh! I always knew my little girl was something special!” She squeezed her daughter tightly, spinning in a little circle.

“What happens from here?” Jrill's voice was wary. Part of him wanted to be excited for his daughter. This opened so many doors for her future, and he was proud that his little girl was so special (though he'd always thought she was, mark or no). She was just so young to be thrust into the world Melinar inhabited. Something about the whole idea gave him a bad feeling.

The older halfling leaned to look around Kerta and her mother, eyeing Jrill with barely disguised distaste. “She will be taken to civilization for training, of course. I will train her personally before she is brought before the House to swear her oath.”

“No!” Kerta whimpered. “Why can't I stay at home?” Tears glimmered in her stormy grey eyes.

“We couldn't have you running around using your mark willy-nilly before you even know what it means, now could we? You will re-”

“I don't even want the stupid mark!” She shouted, cutting him off. “I don't like coming to the city. I only do it because I have to. I don't want to steal people's money when they're sick. Can't you just make it go away?” Tears began to fall in earnest now, and Kerta dashed them away angrily.

The old halfling's blue eyes flashed dangerously. “No, I cannot. You were chosen, gods only know why. It is a part of you now whether you like it or not. You will come to the city. You will train, and you will make your oath to the House. You will not embarrass me by becoming a talentless renegade.”

“I won't use it. I don't know how and you can't make me!” She shouted defiantly.

Melinar ground his teeth, his pudgy face going red. For a moment, it looked like his temper would get the better of him, but he swallowed it down. When he spoke, his voice was quiet, carefully controlled. “I cannot change the rules. You are marked. You will be part of the House, eventually.” He looked at the girl's parents, spreading his hands. “You understand that is out of my hands, yes? She must, whether we like it or not. I will do my best to prepare her, but she belongs to the House now.” He turned on his heel and stalked back to the wagon. “Let's move. This changes things. We must get her settled in now, before the party. There is no time to be dawdling.”

Lyn patted Kerta's back as the girl wept on her shoulder. “There, there darling. It will be all right. Don't worry. Listen to your uncle and everything will be fine. You like helping people. Just think of all the good you can do.”

Kerta just lay limply in her mother's arms, angry and defeated. Siliron took a step forward, moving to nuzzle the poor girl, but she didn't respond.

Jrill tugged the reins and turned the dinosaur away. His eyes were like thunderclouds as he turned back to his wife. “I hope you are right.” He gave a kick to Siliron's flank and they surged off ahead, throwing up a cloud of dust in their wake.




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Smudge (SuperAdmin) 3/11/2012 11:15 PM EST : RE: [Prompt: Changes - Kerta- Part 3]
GP User: Smudge_ddo

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Kerta sat alone atop the staircase, knees pulled up to her chest, leaning her head against the polished wood railing. The house was darkened and quiet, the hustle and bustle of the house staff long since reduced to a few chambermaids and a house guard or two. Well, it should have been quiet. Angry voices floated upstairs from the study below.

Though she couldn't quite understand the words that were being said, the tones spoke well enough for themselves. Her uncle started it out, voice grating and accusatory. Then her father spoke, his voice pitched low, an angry murmur. Of course her mother had to get her piece in, the voice of reason, compromise.

It was quiet a moment, and the girl let out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. She knew well enough what they were arguing about. Kerta had been here a month now, and still she refused to use her dragonmark. Every few days her uncle would come to teach her something. The lessons on first aid and herbalism she would sullenly listen to. The days his lessons turned to using the mark, however, she stubbornly refused.


Today had been one of those days. When she had refused he had gotten so angry it had frightened her. His face had turned red, then purple, veins standing out in his forehead. He'd clenched his hands into fists at his side and glowered at her for more than a minute, his body held still, trembling with rage. She'd expected him to yell, to hit her or do something otherwise violent. He just took a deep breath, nostrils flaring like an old bull's, and closed his eyes. When he opened them, the flames of his rage had concentrated into something icy and much more disturbing.

“If you will not learn,” he said, his voice flat with forced control, “We will simply find a different method of teaching you.” He had leaned forward, bringing his cold blue eyes level with hers. His breath was hot against her cheeks and reeked so badly it was all she could do not to gag and turn away. “Mark my words, girl, you will learn. I will see you use that mark before another month passes.”

Despite her trembling, the young halfling glared defiantly at her uncle, dark eyes hard. “Sure you will. In your dreams.” She had shot back.

Melinar's eyes flew open wide, and for a second, Kerta had been certain he would hit her. Instead, he spun on his heel and stalked out of the room, slamming the door behind him hard enough to make her jump.


Voices sounded from below again, an angry shout from her father, quickly drowned out by her uncle. Kerta sighed and buried her head against her knees, her hair falling in a flame colored curtain around her.

A moment later a voice from behind startled her. “They're all yelling because of you, you know. You stubborn little brat.” A halfling girl in her mid-teens stood behind Kerta, hands on her hips, an arrogant smirk on her face. Long white-blond hair fell to her waist and glittered in the moonlight coming through the window behind her. She would have been strikingly pretty had it not been for her crooked nose, a memento of one fight or another the young bully had gotten herself into. Kerta still didn't understand why the girl hadn't had her father set it properly.
“I heard them from the vent in my room. They're all angry because you won't do what you're supposed to. Your parents are so disappointed in you,” she drawled, drawing out the vowels in a mocking tone. “Bet you didn't know you made your momma cry.”

Tears glimmered in Kerta's eyes, despite how hard she tried to swallow them down. She tried to make her voice flippant, but it came out hoarse instead, choked with unshed tears. “They aren't. They are yelling because your dad's an ass.”

Nope.” The girl countered, sounding smug. “I heard them. Sounded like they're ready to leave, probably tonight. Not gonna come back for you either, until you can play nice.”

They wouldn't do that. They'd take me with them. They wouldn't leave without me. You're just trying to scare me, Rana.” Kerta's voice sounded uncertain, even to herself.

The blonde girl just grinned and shrugged, hip checking the younger girl into the railing roughly as she went by. “I guess we'll see. Hmmm. I wonder if you can get to bed before I tell them you're up here listening.”

Kerta stared daggers at the girls back before turning and scurrying off to her room, silent tears falling with each step.

They wouldn't leave without her, would they? They loved her so much, didn't they? She'd been so certain before they came here, before she got the damned mark. Now... she wasn't so sure. They'd seemed so distant, so disappointed lately. Well, her mother did. Her father was gone too often for her to know, staying outside the city as usual.

Not ten minutes later, she heard the door to the study creak open downstairs, followed by the sound of heavy, rushed footsteps. She closed her eyes, biting her lip. She knew that gait, it was her father's, and he was angry. The front door slammed, shaking the floor of her room, and then the door to the stables followed suit.

Kerta hugged her pillow tight to her, fighting back the fear that threatened to make her weep, the guilt that made her want to run downstairs and give in. Were they really leaving her?


__


Melinar, Jrill, and Lyn faced off in the richly appointed study downstairs. Melinar sat behind an imposing desk made of dark wood, inlaid with mother of pearl in the shape of a greater mark of healing, his arms crossed over his chest. Lyn sat in an overstuffed chair across the room, watching her husband and brother warily, as Jrill paced the room like a caged hunting cat, frustration palpable in the air around him.

A cheery fire crackled counterpoint to the argument from across the room, the comforting warm glow it gave off all but lost on the room's inhabitants.

You coddle her too much.” Melinar grated. “You need to be stern with her. Tell her it is not acceptable to be so headstrong and continue to refuse this!'

Coddle her? She's eight years old! By Balinor's beard, I'm damn well going to 'coddle' her. She's a child, Melinar! She has plenty of years ahead of her to learn.” Jrill growled.

Yes, darling. But the House will want to meet her soon. It would be good if we could get her to practice something, even if it is just focusing hard on practical healing. The dragonmark can come later, can't it?” Lyn looked at her brother hopefully.

You know very well it can't.” He snapped. “I will not have her going before the House and telling them she refuses to use her gift. She will not embarrass us like that!”

Embarrass us?” Jrill all but shouted, crossing the room to stab a finger in his brother-in-law's face. “Us? You're worried about your own reputation and nothing else. You will not use my little girl to further your own ends. Her gift is not going to be used to bring you prestige.”

That she is marked proves her more of my blood than yours!” Melinar bellowed right over the top of Jrill. “And I will not see it wasted because she'd rather be some talentless barbarian! The House will hold me accountable if they find out I did not bring her before them in due time, and I will not bring her before them unprepared!”

Talentless barbarian? What? Because she'd rather not have the mark than to use it like you do? She's never even seen another of the House other than you. As far as she's concerned they're all pompous, greedy, pigheaded, idiots like you are. I'm proud my little fireheart would rather be a talentless barbarian than a gluttonous vulture such as you are! Picking at the bones of the sick and dying for their last coins!”

Honey,” Lyn said softly, a note of warning in her voice. “Maybe we should-”

Gluttonous vulture?!” The old halfling sputtered, jowls quivering in rage. “OUT of my house!” He bellowed, stabbing a finger at the door. “OUT and do NOT come back!”

Jrill stared down the older man, dark eyes flashing like storm clouds. A muscle in his jaw twitched, and he spun on his heel and stormed out of the house, slamming the door behind him.

Lyn slumped in the chair, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Can either of you ever talk like adults?” She sighed wearily.

I am just trying to keep your little girl from the ire of the House, Lyn. I don't know why he can't understand that.” Her brother growled.

I know. And I also know there is some truth to what he says as well.” Her eyes turned to regard the door her husband just stormed out of. “I should go to him.”

Do. Please, Lyn. Take some time, go home. Leave Kerta with me. I will get her to come around eventually. I can't do that if he is here, telling her it is alright to be contrary, naysaying every little thing I do.” His voice softened, taking on a pleading air. Despite the gentleness of his voice, the cold rage still smoldered behind those ice blue eyes.

Lyn sighed heavily. “Perhaps you are right. We will head home for a few days-”

Give me a month, please. I'm certain she will come around by then. You have my word I will do my best to make that happen. Then things can go back to some semblance of normal. She can go home with you then.”

She frowned, looking as if she might object, then finally nodded. “All right. One month.” She sighed again. “I need to go after him, make sure he's all right. If I leave her a letter-”

I will give it to her first thing in the morning. Don't worry.”

Lyn nodded, expression still uncertain. “Take care of her, Melinar. She means the world to us.” She got up and scratched out a quick letter to her daughter on a piece of parchment, folded it and handed it to her brother.

Of course.” He said, tucking it away. “Like my own daughter.”


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Smudge (SuperAdmin) 3/31/2012 7:56 PM EST : RE: [Prompt: Changes - Kerta- Part 4 (Fin)]
GP User: Smudge_ddo

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((Note: This entry does deal with child abuse. It is not incredibly graphic, nor does it show it actually happening in detail, but it is pretty heavy. ))



It had been almost a month since her parents had left Kerta behind. The morning after they left, Melinar had called the girl into his study and told her how disappointed they were in her. They wanted more for their little girl. They wanted her to stop being stubborn and stop refusing to use her mark. He told her they weren't coming back until she did as she was told. Kerta hadn't believed him at first. She had held on to the hope that they would come back for her soon. That he was just lying to get her to use the stupid mark. But, as days turned into weeks, she found herself unable to deny it. She had been abandoned. She was alone.

She had learned many lessons in those weeks, very few of them about healing. She had learned to fear. She learned of hunger and humiliation. She learned what real pain was and how to deny it. She learned what it was to be abandoned, utterly alone.



Kerta opened her eyes with a groan. Her head was fuzzy and she ached all over. Her mind was thick and slow with confusion. Last she could remember she had been in the garden with Rana. It had been evening then, so why was everything so dark now? She sat bolt upright, heart pounding in fear. Had she been locked in the root cellar with the rats again? Her head swam at the quick movement and she had to brace herself so as not to fall back on the bed.

Bed.. She sank back with relief. One of the servants must have found her and taken pity on her. Copper brows furrowed in thought as she tried to remember what happened in the garden.

It had been warm and bright, one of those perfect summer days. Rana was on one of the benches, flirting with some visiting noble's boy. Kerta had been swinging on an old rope swing, trying to ignore them. The boy had made some comment about Rana's unmatched beauty, to which Kerta couldn't help but snort and make a comment about crooked beaks, and how it must be like kissing a hawk. Next thing she knew, her head had exploded with pain, and she was on the ground looking up at Rana who was brandishing a thick, gnarled stick like a cudgel. Things got fuzzy after that.

Carefully, she sat up in bed, leaning back against the headboard briefly to let her head stop spinning. If it was night now, she'd been out quite a while. Slowly, tentatively, she swung her feet over the edge of the bed and stood up. When she was satisfied the room was staying in one place, she padded quietly over to the vanity and lit a candle.

She was getting used to the figure that regarded her from the looking glass. Dark, sunken eyes stared back at her dully from beneath flame colored hair. Gone were the long wavy tresses, all that was left was a ragged mop, chopped short and uneven. There was a dark bruise across one cheekbone, and her lower lip was split and swollen. She grimaced at the mirror and ran a tongue over her teeth, another baby tooth was missing. That was the second one so far that hadn't been loose to begin with. She ran thin fingertips through her hair and gently prodded her scalp. The hair on the back of her head was crusty with blood, and the scalp beneath was so tender she could barely touch it. She didn't think it was cracked though. It didn't move or anything.

Kerta sighed and rested her elbows on the vanity, her face in her hands. This was bad, but it wasn't the worst she'd seen. It wasn't like when Rana tripped her on the stairs and she'd broken her arm. It had been two days of agony before her uncle returned from his trip to heal her, and he'd been none too gentle in the setting. It wasn't like the rats, when the older girl had locked her in the root cellar overnight and she'd tried to sleep. A shudder ran through her and she swallowed hard at the memory. That had been worst of all.

Melinar hadn't raised a hand against her himself the whole time she'd been there. Though, Kerta figured, it was very likely that the abuses she suffered at the hands of his daughter were orchestrated by him as punishments. The servants always looked the other way and he always scolded her for tattling or starting it whenever she complained about it. He did nothing and always found a way to pin it on her.

A plaintive rumble came from her belly. Her uncle did have direct ways of punishing her as well, however. From the very start, whenever she disobeyed or shirked a lesson, she would not be fed.

When was the last time she had eaten? Two days ago maybe? Unless one was to count the apple she'd picked in the garden earlier. She frowned and pushed herself to her feet with a sigh, looking out the window at the moonlit night.

There was no sense in waiting anymore. Obviously her parents weren't coming back for her. It was stupid to stay and put up with more abuse. Maybe she could find her way back home on her own. They'd ridden the same route here and home so many times over the years. She'd never really paid close attention, but maybe once she got started she could figure it out.

She lifted the seat of the bench she had been sitting on, and dug to the bottom of the chest beneath. A simple, short sleeved, leather tunic and pants were tucked down at the very bottom, beneath all the lacy frippery. Off came the blue sundress she'd been wearing earlier, and she quickly slid into the old, familiar clothes. She slipped on a pair of soft leather boots, and as a second thought, ripped a long piece of green ribbon off of a dress and tied it around her arm, concealing the dragonmark.

Over the past month, she'd become very talented at getting around the house without being seen or heard. The latest hours of the night, when the house was finally quiet and still, were her favorites. She'd creep around and pretend there was no one else. When it had been too long between the lessons she actually paid attention to, the ones on first aid and healing that had nothing to do with the mark, and she was starving, she'd sneak into the kitchen and steal food. She suspected the cooks left the pot pies, pasties, and loaves of bread sitting out for her to take, but she could never get any of them to admit it.

She rolled up a blanket and tucked it under her arm, then padded downstairs to the kitchen. The hearth was banked down to glowing coals and everything was dark and quiet. Even when nothing was cooking the room was warm and inviting, and smelled heavenly, a testament to the cook's talent, or perhaps to Kerta's hunger. The girl gathered up a loaf of bread and a small, waxed wheel of cheese, some fruit, and a glass bottle filled with some sort of juice.

She began folding it up into the blanket when she heard a high-pitched squeal come from the direction of the cook's door. Guiltily, she started, then ducked down out of sight behind the counter. When the sound didn't come again, she tiptoed over to the door and listened. From inside the room came the murmur of a man's voice, talking softly, then the high pitched giggle of the cook. Beside the door, on the coat pegs, hung a light summer cloak, a sword belt complete with rapier and dagger, and a battered leather pack. Definitely not the belongings of the cook. She must have had interesting company indeed.

Kerta stared at the items a moment, indecisively. The cloak would be too big, and she had no idea how to use a rapier, but the dagger and the pack, they could prove useful. Quietly, she pulled a chair over and climbed up onto it so she could reach the pegs. She unhooked the dagger and its sheath from the belt and clipped it to hers. The pack, thankfully was fairly light. She pulled it down and looked inside. There were scrolls, a couple of sticks that might have been wands, a small wooden flute, a leather bound book, and various small trinkets. She sighed. Stealing the pack and dagger was one thing. Stealing the rest of the man's belongings that she had no use for, was another. Carefully, she emptied the pack onto the chair and transferred her food into it.

Unfortunately, there had been no coin in the pack. She would need some if she was to have food enough to get home. There was a small lockbox in her uncle's office she was pretty sure she could take if she was careful about it. She'd seen him put his coin purse in there from time to time. She could worry about how to open it later.

Silently she padded back to her uncle's office. No light shone from underneath the door. She slowly slid it open and crept inside, closing it behind her. The lockbox was in the top drawer of his writing desk. Most days he left the drawer unlocked, if he hadn't she was pretty sure she could find the key. Slowly, she made her way over to the desk, careful not to bump the furniture as she went by. Carefully she slid the drawer open. The squeak of old wood filled the room.

From behind her came a startled harumph of a sound. “Wha? Who's there?” Came her uncle's voice.

Kerta's heart pounded in her throat. In the darkness, she'd failed to see him where he was curled up in his favorite overstuffed chair, asleep. She stood stock still, hoping and praying he'd go back to sleep. Olladra wasn't listening. There was the creak of metal as he unhooded the everbright lantern beside him.

“Kerta!? What are you-” His eyes took in her pack and the hand on the half open drawer. “Running away? And worse yet, stealing from me?” He growled.

“I-I.. uh.” Kerta stammered.

Melinar's eyes took on that cold fury again, and he cleared the room much faster than one would think a fat old man who had just awoken from a nap possibly could. For the first time, he raised a hand to her, smacking her sharply across the face. Kerta cried out and fell over backward, more in surprise and in the haste of trying to get away than from the forcefulness of the strike. He reached down and grabbed her by the arm.

“We will not have any of this foolishness! I think you need a couple nights in the root cellar to think this over.” He snarled.

Kerta's eyes widened. He had known what Rana had been doing. Something inside her snapped at that knowledge, and hot fury flooded her veins. She reached behind her with her free hand and pulled the dagger from its sheath. Her uncle was too caught up in his own anger to notice. As he yanked her to her feet, she stabbed the dagger at his belly. Melinar let out a bellow of pain and surprise when it buried itself there to its hilt. Hot blood flowed out over her hands, but she barely noticed, she was already backing up to flee.

“Better use your mark, Uncle.” She shot, as she ran from the room.

She ran as far and as fast as her feet could carry her, not looking back once until she collapsed, out of breath, about a mile from the house. She sat there in the moonlight, gasping for air, trembling with the realization of what she had just done. There was no way she could go home now. Not after that. They'd just hunt her down and bring her back, or worse. She was alone. She had to get away, had to hide.

A thrumming sound came from above her and the world was bathed in a soft purple light. Eyes bleary with tears, she looked up to see an airship floating ponderously toward the airship tower across the city. A small flicker of hope kindled inside her at the sight. That was her chance.


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